It’s the next wave in the long-running trend of hospital laboratory consolidation, as the need to trim costs and support thriving medical laboratory outreach programs continues

There’s an important new development in the hospital/health system sector of the clinical laboratory industry that continues the longstanding trend of consolidating multi-site lab operations. It is to rationalize and standardize medical laboratory operations across all lab sites within the health system. Effectively, this standardization trend represents the next cycle of clinical laboratory consolidation.

One recent example of this trend can be found at Atrium Health, the hospital health network based in Charlotte, N.C. (formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare System until earlier this year). Becker’s Hospital Review states that Atrium Health is the “seventh largest nonprofit system in the country based on number of acute-care hospitals (35).”

Creating Standardized Medical Laboratory Testing Services at Multiple Sites

Over the past four years, the clinical laboratory team at Atrium Health has worked to design, build, and operate a new, state-of-the-art core laboratory. At the same time, there were sequential projects to integrate the lab testing services and operations of nine other medical lab sites within the health system to better align the test menu, lab instruments, and workflow at these sites with the activities of the core laboratory.

According to Modena Henderson, MHA, the Vice President of Laboratory Services at Atrium Health, in an interview with Dark Daily, there were multiple primary goals in this project to rationalize and standardize lab testing at all the participating lab sites. They include:

  • Standardizing lab test methodologies, reference ranges, and test menu;
  • Standardizing analyzers and test platforms across all labs;
  • Using Lean, Six Sigma, and other process improvement methods to streamline workflow and reduce test turnaround time;
  • Improve productivity of lab staff;
  • Increase quality while reducing or eliminating unproductive activities;
  • Using real-time analytics middleware to keep lab management informed on a daily basis, and,
  • Collaborating with emergency departments, wards, and outreach physicians to deliver more value with clinical lab testing services.

Using the ‘Three Ps of Project Management’ Approach in Health System Labs

The centerpiece of this program of lab rationalization and consolidation was the design and build-out for a new core clinical laboratory facility. Henderson said her team followed the principals of the “Three Ps of Project Management”—People, Process, Performance—to model the new lab facility, then guide how it was constructed and brought into daily clinical service.

“The Atrium Health laboratory regionalization project is an example of the next step that many innovative hospital laboratories are taking,” stated Robert L. Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report. “Every lab has the same double challenge. First is financial. Hospital lab budgets are shrinking as growth in inpatient admissions slows. Outreach revenues are declining as Medicare and private payers slash lab test prices.

“Second, labs must come up with the capital needed to acquire and deploy the expensive and sophisticated new genetic and molecular tests that physicians and patients want,” he continued. “Hospital and health network labs must offer these new tests to keep their parent organizations at the cutting edge of clinical care.

Clinical Labs See Value in Standardizing Test Methodologies, Menus

“Thus, it is logical for the clinical labs of health networks to begin the process of rationalizing and standardizing their test menus, methodologies, and analyzers at every site within the system that performs medical lab testing,” emphasized Michel. “This is a development that we have watched gather momentum.”

Keynote Speaker Robert L. Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report and Dark Daily will discuss how clinical laboratories of hospitals and health networks are rationalizing and standardizing their medical laboratory testing services to achieve the goals of managing lab costs, boosting quality, and increasing lab outreach revenue. The 12th annual Lab Quality Confab takes place on Oct. 9-10, 2018, at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. (Photo copyright: The Dark Report.)

Michel offered two examples of sizable programs to rationalize and standardize clinical lab tests and services across a large health system. One is in Michigan, at Ascension Health. The other is in the Canadian Province of Québec. Both are large and ambitious undertakings, both in the number of lab sites involved and the large geography served by these clinical laboratories.

Consolidation Project in Québec involves 123 Clinical Lab Facilities

Québec’s provincial health system wants to consolidate 123 clinical laboratories in the province into 11 groups (clusters) of labs. Each lab group, or cluster, will have a core lab and rapid response labs. Test menus and methodologies will be standardized throughout the province. In an interview with The Dark Report, Ralph Dadoun, PhD, Project Director for Optilab Québec, plans to accomplish the consolidation without adding costs.

In Michigan, Ascension’s clinical lab leadership is working to integrate and standardize the labs that are operated by seven system organizations. This includes 14 hospitals and 18 existing laboratories located throughout the entire State of Michigan. In an interview with The Dark Report, Carlton Burgess, MSM, Vice President of Laboratory Services at Ascension Health’s St. John Providence Clinical Pathology Laboratory in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., stated that the goal is to have all the labs in the state work together in a seamless, integrated fashion.

Regional Lab Integration at North Carolina’s Biggest Health System

“To achieve this, the labs will be linked in four regions—a process we describe as regional integration,” explained Burgess. “Each region has a core lab and rapid response labs and each region will be responsible for building lab volume through increased outreach testing. In addition to changing how labs serve each region, our statewide standardization project has three objectives:

  • “Repatriate existing send-out lab testing back into Michigan;
  • “Establish standard test menus for each facility; and,
  • “Renew each lab’s focus on growing lab outreach business.

“Every lab administrator and pathologist working in hospital and health network laboratories should be tracking this new trend of regionalization and standardization of hospital labs,” observed Michel. “That’s because labs already moving down this path are setting new standards for the entire clinical laboratory industry. This goes beyond cost and productivity, because these labs are putting the systems in place that will allow them to deliver more value to physicians and thus be paid more for that value by private health insurers.”

Innovative Lab Leaders to Speak at Lab Quality Confab in Atlanta

Lab leaders from Ascension Health will be keynote speakers at the upcoming 12th Annual Lab Quality Confab that takes place on October 9-10, 2018, at the Hyatt Hotel in Atlanta. They will also conduct multiple learning sessions to share their successes and lessons learned in building a new core laboratory and using that as a foundation to rationalize and standardize test methods, reference ranges, menus, lab automation, and analyzers at every clinical lab facility in the Ascension Health system. Sessions by Ascension Health lab leaders include:

  • Leveraging Lean to become a Best-in-Class Lab Performer: How We Built and Automated a New Core Lab while Integrating Lab Operations and Helping Staff Embrace a New Culture; Modena Henderson, Vice President, Laboratory Services, and, Steven Harris, Assistant Vice President, Atrium Health.
  • Achieving Standardized, High-Performance Lab Testing Services at Multiple Hospitals Using Lean Methods and Effective Engagement with Lab Staff and Nurses; Gary Catarella, MBA, MT(ASCP), Assistant Vice President, Hospital Operations, Atrium Health.
  • Lessons We’ve Learned in Our Step-by-Step Journey to Transform Lab Operations and Integrate Testing across All Sites: Engaging Staff, Sustaining Change, Working with Vendors and Consultants—Interactive Roundtable Discussion; Modena Henderson, Vice President, Laboratory Services; and, Steven Harris, Assistant Vice President, Atrium Health.

Using Lean, Six, Sigma, ISO 15189 in Clinical Laboratory Operations

Lab Quality Confab this year features 60 speakers and 40 presentations from lab administrators, pathologists, and other lab managers on their successes and innovations using Lean, Six Sigma, ISO 15189, and other process management methods. You can view the full agenda here (or copy and paste this URL into your web browser: https://www.labqualityconfab.com/agenda).

This year’s Lab Quality Confab is on track to be the largest in its 12-year history. Limited spaces are still available. To ensure your place, register today at: https://www.labqualityconfab.com/register (or copy and paste this URL into your web browser: https://www.labqualityconfab.com/register).

Also, you can bring your lab team and make this Lab Quality Confab a group learning opportunity. When you bring four or more from your organization, each can register for $695 for this two-day learning event. One benefit you’ll gain from bringing your team is that it will give them the knowledge, the tools, and the confidence to help your lab reduce costs without compromising quality, while supporting sustained revenue growth from your hospital lab’s successful outreach program.

—Michael McBride

Related Information:

Full Agenda and Other Details for 12th Annual Lab Quality Confab

To Register for 12th Annual Lab Quality Confab

10 Things to Know about Atrium Health, Formerly Carolinas HealthCare System

Québec’s Laboratory Consolidation Plan Aims to Save $13.5 Million: Optilab Québec to move 123 labs into 11 lab groups

Michigan’s Ascension to Standardize Labs Throughout the State: Goals Are Common Test Methods, Menus, Practices